The New York Times’s John Eligon interviews Lerone Martin, an associate professor at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, about his research on the FBI and religion. Through a FOIA request, Martin uncovered documents showing the FBI worked with the African American televangelist Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux to discredit the Rev. Martin Luther King. Martin sees the research’s contemporary implications for the Trump White House and evangelicals. He says, “I think it allows us to see how these televangelists, who make connections with the executive branch, can be used as religious cover for what the F.B.I. and the executive branch more broadly wants to do.”
For The Washington Post Magazine, Tiffany Stanley, managing editor of Religion & Politics, reports on the struggle for LGBT rights in rural Alexander County, North Carolina. She profiles Mitchell Gold, one of the county’s biggest employers and a gay-rights activist, whose lobbying of religious groups to accept the LGBT community has been a hard sell for local evangelicals. Stanley writes, “What was happening in Alexander County was a version of the debate unfolding in recent years in towns across the country, places where the laws have swiftly changed but deeply held beliefs have not.”
The Associated Press’s Brady McCombs reports, “The Mormon church made history and injected a bit of diversity into a previously all-white top leadership panel on Saturday by selecting the first-ever Latin-American apostle and the first-ever apostle of Asian ancestry.” Ulisses Soares of Brazil, and Gerrit W. Gong, a Chinese-American, will join the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, which helps institute LDS church policy. Observers have speculated that the selections are part of an effort to further globalize Mormonism, as LDS President Nelson has long had an interest in increasing Mormon visibility abroad and especially in China.
For The Atlantic, Shira Telushkin writes that Coptic churches in the United States are attempting to balance reaching a wider audience by Americanizing with retaining the Egyptian culture and customs which have long underpinned Coptic identity. Assimilation risks alienating longtime members and Egyptian Coptic immigrants, but Coptic leaders fear that retaining Egyptian cultural norms and Arabic-language services will drive away potential American converts. Telushkin writes, “A new conversation has emerged among the faithful: Can an Americanized church truly count as Coptic?”
Ahead of the 50th anniversary since the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston writes about King’s theological development during his lifetime. King’s theology was shaped by diverse sources, from his family’s Baptist tradition to Reinhold Niebuhr’s Christian Realism. In 1965, King himself said, “I am many things to many people; Civil Rights leader, agitator, trouble-maker and orator, but in the quiet resources of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.”
The Washington Post’s Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes that Frank Page, Bill Hybels, Paul Pressler, and Andy Savage, all of whom are evangelical leaders, have been beset by sex scandals as the #MeToo movement has encouraged more women to come forward with their stories. While Page and Savage resigned in response to their allegations and Pressler faces a lawsuit, Hybels has remained defiant. Bailey writes, “Some fear that women are still being discredited in a climate in which a high majority of white evangelicals support Trump despite the multiple sexual harassment and misconduct allegations he has faced.”
The New York Times reports that Pope Francis voiced hope for peaceful resolutions to war and conflict around the world in his Easter Sunday Mass. The pope mentioned conflicts such as the civil war in Syria, strained relations on the Korean peninsula, and the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The New York Times adds, “At the Mass, Francis urged Catholics not to remain paralyzed in the face of injustice, and he challenged them to ‘break out’ of their routines and to let God in.”
POLITICO’s Nahal Toosi reports that Muslim-American civil rights groups are troubled by the appointment of John Bolton as national security advisor and Mike Pompeo’s nomination as secretary of state. Bolton has close ties with anti-Muslim activists and is the chair of an organization that harshly criticizes Islam, while Pompeo has encouraged conspiracy theories and made false accusations about Muslim-Americans in the past. Their predecessors, H.R. McMaster and Rex Tillerson, were seen as moderates who dampened Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Toosi writes, “But if there was a sense among Trump’s critics that McMaster and Tillerson had been restraining his worst instincts, there is now concern that Bolton and Pompeo might encourage them.”
Vox’s Jane Coaston writes that evangelical Christians have relied on the biblical story of King David to defend Trump’s alleged marital infidelity. Coaston writes,” Their reasoning is that like King David, Donald Trump has committed adultery, and like King David (or President Franklin Roosevelt, as one columnist wrote), Trump can be a great (and moral) leader even after having committed adultery.” Polling has shown that white evangelicals have continued to support Trump at higher rates than other religious groups, even after details of his alleged affair with Stormy Daniels have emerged.
The New York Times’s Laura Goodstein profiles the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, a Latino pastor who serves as an informal advisor to President Trump. Rodriguez has been criticized for legitimizing the Trump administration, which has advanced an anti-immigration agenda and thrown the DACA program into limbo. Goodstein writes, “He thinks of himself as a modern-day Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, placed there to save his people and advance the common good.”